Newswise — Canisius College research team led by Melissa Wanzer, Ed.D, professor of communication studies, uses social identity theory and communication accommodation theory as lenses to examine former cancer patients’ perspectives of the “survivor” label, replacement labels for their experience, and use of survivor services.

Semi-structured interviews of 43 former cancer patients (FCP) offer insight into their unique cancer experiences and explain how these events influence their perceptions of the term survivor. Coders used constant comparison methods to capture six themes related to the participants’ impressions of the survivor label. When sharing perceptions of the survivor label, participants expressed language that illustrated convergence (It means everything to me), divergence (I don’t like to be called anything), convergence and divergence (Part of me is happy . . . Part of me is kind of aggravated), and apathy (I have no feelings toward the label). Participants also generated new labels that captured their cancer experiences and six unique themes emerged from these responses. Most of the former cancer patients were aware of survivorship programs; however, relatively few used these programs (39%) and those who did not use them (61%) cited reasons explained by social identity theory. 

Dr. Wanzer (FCP) collaborated with research assistants/communication majors, Katie Simon, and Noah Cliff, and concluded that most FCPs interviewed did not identify with the term "survivor."  This non-identification may impact engagement in cancer survivorship programs. 

Follow-up research includes the collection of feedback on new terms for persons affected by cancer and exploration of the correlation between identification with the cancer survivor label and participation in cancer survivorship programs.